Friday, August 30, 2013

Inspired by City Farmer

 Earlier this month I spent a lovely afternoon in the garden at City Farmer. I was happy to find Sharon and Michael sitting out the quiet rain shower and chatting about garden stuff. I was charmed by a hummingbird coming down to have a wee sip at the Verbena bonariensis. This plant also attracts butterflies and bees and can be planted instead of buddleia, even though it is not as "moreish" as the Butterfly Bush. I like how each stem  has three stems which in turn bear three stems. It's like a delicate candelabra.

When the rain let up I took a few photos of some of the inspired and inspiring planting.
 These orange cosmos are perfect for matching the colors of fall flowers.

These lovely insect hotels are maintained by the resident "Bug Lady" at City Farmer, Maria Keating.

Be sure to check out City Farmer's award winning blog by Michael Levenston and go see the garden to get yourself inspired!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Letter from Saltspring

Hiya Folks,

I am having a beautiful time on Saltspring Island on a much needed retreat. Last night we had a good soaking rain and I woke up to see the garden framed by mist. My room overlooks an orchard and the gardens where the ingredients for our lovely meals originate. This morning after a hearty breakfast of steel cut oats with all the fixings and a kale blackberry banana smoothie I went for a walk in the forest which was jumping with frogs of all sizes and colors and slippery with snails and banana slugs.

I went for my stroll around the garden and saw some pretty wet and soppy bumble bees in zinnias. By the time lunch came around, it was beginning to warm up. Lunch was a chard and cheese bake with sun dried tomato pesto. There was steamed broccoli, quinoa salad, and zucchini with dill. The green goddess salad dressing and the mustard salad dressings are so good I put them on everything.

The highlight of my day (and probably my trip) was going to Dan Jason's garden to take photographs of his bee plants. His garden is breathtaking, especially when you know he does most of the work himself. It is teaming with biodiverse plant and insect life. His passion for saving seeds is incredibly inspiring. I am filled with happiness and so to celebrate changed out of my sweaty clothes and put on my brightest pinkest outfit and sat in the garden at the retreat watching the sun set over the dahlias and the swallows zing through the air catching insects. I am blessed.

Pics will come soon.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Sea Otter Celebrates the 125th Birthday of Stanley Park

FYI: It's a cake made of seafood with clam icing (yum) given to a rescue otter. Sweet! See you at the party tomorrow and Sunday!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dusk in the August Garden

 Dusk falls on the August garden after a lovely dinner followed by whiskey hazelnut Earnest Ice Cream topped with apricots simmered with buckwheat honey. After a morning spent running errands downtown I am grateful to be back home surrounded by our little green oasis.

 The late summer light makes the colors of the flowers pop. Tonight I noticed that the Cleome spinosa perks up and offers nectar at night, a sure sign it evolved for night pollinators like bats.

 Speaking of bats, I wonder if this moth is meant to resemble a bat, cat, or squirrel.

A hummingbird visited later than usual tonight, doing her rounds: buddleia, crocosmia, back to the buddleia, scarlet runner beans, sweat peas, and then zinnias. She has a strict sense of preference.

Other small songbirds are starting to visit the garden as well. They love to perch on the bamboo supports for the sweet peas. You could do a whole sculpture project just on perching points for birds.

Hummingbird Sage

 Pssst! Mr. Stink bug, your cammo isn't working here.

It's nearing the end of August and things in the garden are winding down. I cleared out my peas to make way for some winter starts and I'm beginning to think about putting gardens to bed next month and planning new gardens for next spring. Those who make jam are at it full force. There's a bit of a feeling of panic in the air to get all those summer activities in and get those school clothes bought because you know how summer makes kids grow.

 I started cleaning out the raspberry canes and catching up on some weeding, but mostly I like to sit and enjoy the garden with my feet up in my anti-gravity chair. I am worrying about the neighbor's bamboo, which is aggressively creeping under the back fence. Peter and I had a good old barny about what we should do about it. He thinks we should dig out the roots and put down plexiglass. I think the neighbor should do it because it's this bamboo. We think he's an absentee landlord so we are unsure about whether he would do anything. Then I worry about the buddleia on the other side which is starting to set seed and the wild black berry that crept into the raspberry patch. The thing is, I've got to stop worrying and start doing something about it.

And then the hummingbird visits. She feeds at almost all the plants I grew for her: scarlet runner beans, zinnias, and the hummingbird salvias. My heart lightens and I forget about all those fall garden worries. I am in the moment enjoying the luscious end of summer. These annual salvias are from a mix put out by Swallowtail Garden Seeds and you can buy each color separately as well: Salvia coccinea. I hope I can get some better photos this week as I rest up before my marathon performance as the Queen Bee at the 125th birthday of Stanley Park this weekend. Lord, give me strength!

In the mean time I am enjoying my garden, feeling like Grizzly Adams with all these insects and birds coming to visit. The chickadees and I have a good dialogue going on now that they have claimed one of the bee oases as their own. They perch boldly on my chair when the water needs to be refilled and I usually get the message when I am not otherwise preoccupied with buddleia and bamboo.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The OMG Wasps at Moberly Cultural Herb Garden

This is what happens when you plant a community cultural herb garden in Vancouver. The children come. They snack on lemon balm and rub wooly lamb's ears leaves on their cheeks. Their parents come and snip some herbs to keep the moths out of their closets. The grandparents come and clip mint and chamomile for soothing teas.

The birds come and eat seeds and aphids.

 The pollinating insects come and feed on nectar and pollen. The carnivorous insects come and feed on smaller insects which then feed on smaller insects. . . .

 The artists come and make music, build trellises, make costumes, and have garden parties. The healers come and make smoothies and healthy treats and show us how to use the plants around us to heal and give each other hope and love.

 The magic of the garden brings some rare and distinguished visitors: eagles circle overhead, blessing the garden, and today two bright metallic blue and green sweat bees  cuckoo wasps sunned themselves in the Moberly Community Herb Garden. OMG!

 Bumblebees and wasps foraged together in the second blooming of this California Lilac.

A pair of chickadees took turns snatching sunflowers.

Artist in Residence Melanie Schambach puts out a sign that says "Before I die I want to. . .

My answer: Plant more gardens!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

ETA: Cuckoo Wasps aka Chrysididae or jewel wasps are cleptoparasitoid wasps that lay their eggs in the nests of other insects. They have a curious defense mechanism that enables them to curl into a little ball. Ahhh, sweet!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Irridescence in the Garden

 I set out to find hummingbirds at VanDusen Gardens and I found that this is one of the best times of the year to find them. The monardas are just past their prime, but the crocosmias are glorious right now.

 I'm aware of the differences between roufous and Anna's but I still find them hard to identify. I think this is a rufous because it struck me how tiny she was. The first thought I had when I saw her flight path was "Insect or bird?" The female hummers are also harder to spot because they are so quiet. This little one was proprietary about this particular patch of crocosmia. She did have a tussle with another hummer to defend her patch of paradise.

 Later, I saw this hummer, which I think is an Anna's. I think at this time of the year it might be even more tricky to identify the species of hummingbird with some birds being adolescents.

There are patches of monarda in different parts of the garden which attracts the large bumble bee queens as well as hummingbirds.

As I was waiting for the bus, I witnessed two people having an argument. The body language alerted me to their conflict. I overheard what the problem was: a mentally challenged adult was having words with his caregiver because she had touched his hand. He didn't like people touching him. "I touched your hand because you weren't listening to me," she said. She was frustrated, but not in a mean way. It struck me that sometimes fighting is just another form of communication. Hummingbirds often communicate by fighting.

I harass bees all the time and usually they don't bother me. I stick my camera in their space and snap away, trying to get closer and closer. Some bees are more shy and they usually fly to a place where I can't reach. Some bees aren't bothered at all.  Sometimes bumble bees will wave their leg up in the air as a warning, but I find that rarely happens to me. Bees will physically push each other to assert themselves. Usually the larger bee pushes the smaller bee out of their way so they can continue foraging. Sometimes when you get too close to a beehive or wasp nest they will give you a "Glesgae kiss" also known as a "Glasgow kiss" or a head butt. I disturbed a shy little wasp walking down my steps the other day and I watched her hide in the cracks, peeking out at me to wait until I left.

Hummingbirds are very alert to predators. The hummers at VanDusen are used to people being around all the time, but as soon as they hear a raven, they disappear into the shadows. I think they like to forage high, ie on climbing plants, as an instinct against predators like cats.

This variety of crocosmia is more towards the orange color, with these striking centres that probably function as nectar guides.

 Just before I left the garden I spotted a beautiful sweat bee in these asters. This little patch of asters was attracting the largest variety of bees in the garden. In fact, since the plants are thirty per cent off in the garden shop, I bought four little pots of asters to take home. There are many types of asters in different heights, so it should be easy to find an aster that suits your garden.

I went to Oak Meadows park and the garden around the Insect Hotel where a hummingbird was visiting the monarda. This late in the season the park could really do with some asters to feed the bees.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Stilleto Fly

I have reached a point of insect nerdery from which there is no return: sifting through photos of flies to identify what I have photographed. It's not even a flipping bee! It's a FLY! Anyway, it was acting like a bee and dressed like the men in black suits, so I'm thinking it's a stilleto fly from the family Therevidae. The larvae are vicious and voracious, garnering the mafia-related name. They prey on the larvae and pupae of other insects. The adults feed on nectar, honeydew and pollen and occasionally on animal or vegetable secretions. OMG that sounds creepy.

 I'm pretty sure I saw another one today in some sandy soil in VanDusen Gardens, so this must be their favorite time of the year. Anyway, it's a predatory fly: enjoy!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Strawflowers and Dandelions at UBC Farm

I was talking to some permaculture students at UBC Farm yesterday and someone asked a very good question. "As cities ban pesticides, are they actually better places to raise bees than in agricultural areas?" In terms of biodiversity, cities do have areas that are good forage for a variety of native bees as well as imported honeybees. In fact, I just found a study done in 2004 evaluating bee habitat in Vancouver: Bee Diversity and abundance in an urban setting by Thomassi, Miro, Higo and Winston.  It is an excellent read.

One of the flowers that the researches found supported the highest diversity of bees was the lowly dandelion (Taraxacum officinales). As I walked around UBC Farm yesterday, I did find that this plant was the one that I observed supported the sweat and mining bees as well as the honey and bumble bees. In spite of all those fancy flowers grown for weddings and other occasions, the dandelion took home the prize for best in diversity. The false dandelion came in on top as well, as did a flower I never expected to advocate as a bee plant--the straw flower.


 Straw flowers are much loved by fall floral arrangers because of the variety bright colors and the fact that they retain their colors when they dry. The petals are papery and dry just like straw. Now when I see pink flowers like this I expect the flower to be a butterfly plant, but that big lush pad of pollen in the middle obviously makes several insects quite happy.

The wasps were more interested in little insects that might be hiding between the petals of the plant.

 There's got to be some nectar in there as this skipper appears to be filling up the tank, so to speak.

 This photo shows a photo of a honeybee next to a syphid fly so you can compare and contrast.

Here is another illustration of frilly flowers that have been bred so that there is no pollen--the Teddy Bear Sunflower.

The students spotted this bumble bee queen on one of the fluffy sunflowers and I thought she was sipping, but she was grooming. You can see here her tongue is retracted. She's not feeding on this plant, just using it as furniture, which is about all its good for.

Friday, August 16, 2013

New Bee on the Block

 I've been chasing her for three days: the elusive "I'm not a Vosnesenskii" queen. I first saw her at the back of my neighbor Jean's house in the fennel, but she evaded me. I saw her again yesterday across the street in the tall coneflowers at Kelly's house, but she flew off before I could even get the camera out of its pocket. Today I finally found her in Jean's oregano (or is it marjorum?).

She has a beautiful velvety black abdomen, with very little yellow at the top. She's got black fur around her compound eyes, and a kind of blonde mohawk with its dark roots showing.

 Then when I got home I realized I'd shot a photo of one of her (smaller) daughters at the goldenrod in Catherine's yard. The garden has a corner with blackberries, goldenrod and buddleia which is currently a very popular bee spot.

When I looked closely at this boy covered in pollen, I suspect it may be of the same nest. Now for identification. It sort of looks like Brown-belted Bumble Bee, one of the 35 species native to British Columbia. You can see a fabulous photo here on E-Fauna. But then I found a site I've never seen before called Bee Spotter and I'm looking at the Bombus impatiens or Common Eastern Bumblebee and I have a queasy feeling, this is what I might be seeing. What do you think? Is it an escapee from a greenhouse or a local yokel?

This post is dedicated to Jean's father Tony who left us three days ago, about the same time I started seeing this mystery bee.

All Petticoats and No Pollen

 I have to admit I don't know much about zinnias, but I grew some from seed this year because I read that the red ones attracted hummingbirds. I did see a hummingbird swoop down and take a sip, but they haven't exactly been a big success. Maybe one needs a critical mass of them.

Now see this zinnia is pretty enough for a Victorian seed catalogue illustration, but where's the nectar? Where's the pollen? Were Victorian plant breeders a bit too obsessed with the erotica of petticoats?

Now here's a zinnia with substance.  The bumblebees systematically go round in circles sipping the nectar in these flowers with a single row of petals.

And here's a compromise--still lots of petals, but some pollen and nectar. Now these flowers change as they mature, and I can't tell you if some of these petals fall off to reveal more florets, so I'll have to watch mine and see what develops.

 These zinnias are all in a garden plot at 16 Oaks Community Garden and they do brighten up a grey August afternoon.

Hello little ladybug larva!

Look at this amazing crop of goji berries! I am so jealous. These would be great in a bee hedgerow.

 This is one of the West Coast seeds wildflower mix--I can see them all over town. The ones with less corn poppies seem to fare better. I wish each variety was in its own little seed packet, but it's great to see these little wildflower patches here and there all over Vancouver.

"Air Pollution and Urban Grown Food Crops in Vancouver: Understanding and Reducing the Risk."

Curioser and curioser!

 Can you believe the color of these tomatoes?!